What it means to own success, grow from her failure, and change the narrative of women leaders in the backcountry
Words by Christine Feleki
Photo: Steph Nitsch
Have you experienced it? That feeling of knowing something, but you aren’t quite sure what it is you know? Or wanting to say something but...well, unsure how to?
It’s at the tip of your tongue… but you're never really able to put it into words that wouldn’t regress… never really being able to put into action.
A few years ago, I read an article by Mackenzie Berg that finally put these many thoughts into words. Her article, “The Conversation We Are All Having Lately,” touched on a spectrum of topics, and it has continued to hit home with the central idea that we (as both people and as women), need to start changing how we talk about each other in nature, in sport and as a community.
“Why must so many stories about women taking on a big adventure or a tough route start with fear and uncertainty about whether they were deserving of doing it in the first place?” — Mackenzie Berg
Mackenzie was on it. Why are we, as women, allowing ourselves to be portrayed in this light? Why do we affirm this gender stereotype with our own thinking? And why do we feel that we need someone else to get us there?
As I wade through these questions, more arise: Why am I so quick to trust someone else’s judgment and not so trusting of my own? Or, why am I so quick to critique someone else's decision and not question my own?
I feel that if you are going to have a hands-in-the-air, crushing-it kind of winter, this is a must-have conversation with your friends and really start to investigate the narrative that is being told...both externally and internally.
It is important to challenge these thoughts within ourselves, and as I gear up for this coming winter, it is something I am constantly trying to check in on.
The intention isn’t to put myself down. It’s to look at what I did and what resulted from it. It is easy to have a good day in the backcountry. When nothing goes wrong, you might come home thinking you are pretty good at this avalanche-mitigation thing. And maybe you are. However, I have been taught that even the good days can result from poor decision making. Maybe you just got lucky.
It angers me when I hear someone relate a woman's success to the man she was with, the looks she was born with or the easy road that she had. The narrative is never because she worked her ass off, training, planning and committing to a goal she has set.
Photo: Steph Nitsch
When I head out on a backcountry trip there is forethought, practice and, yes, even fear and uncertainty. But it is the preparation that allows me to push through those feelings. And I am not necessarily talking about route planning or pre-season weight training, although that can definitely help. I am talking about that in-your-gut, unknown reason that tells you to turn around. I am talking about experience and how that influences decision making. Sometimes plans happen quickly, and that’s when I find that I rely on my experience to get me through those uncertain moments, to push me up to the next roll and to dive into the unknown.
So how does this relate to changing our perspective about women getting after it in the mountains?
When we can own our experience, we can grow. Every experience we have can be used to inform the next, and this is where confidence grows. If we take a back seat to our adventures, then it will be harder to release ourselves from the idea that we need someone else to navigate us there.
"When we can own our experience, we can grow."
Photo: Steph Nitsch
There is a theory that is often used in the avalanche industry which talks about the progression from rules-based decision making to experience/judgement-based decision making. This is the idea that when you are first starting something, you have no experience or foundation to base decisions from, so you must use rules. For example, Avalanche Skills Training (AST) in Canada focuses on terrain and terrain choices as a way to mitigate hazard. By following the rules, we can potentially avoid avalanches if, for instance, we don’t snowboard over convex rolls. At first you may not recognize this feature, and it becomes intimidating to tour around for fear of accidentally rolling over a convex slope. But as you travel with friends and practice the skills, your experience grows and you are easily, without thought, able to navigate the terrain and avoid this hazard.
This progression from rules-based decision making to experience-based also instills confidence. So while you may have previously only followed your friends based on decisions they made, you can now safely lead and set your own beautiful skin track.
As you gain more experience, it is interesting to see how you become more comfortable with unknowns...and to do this you need to reflect. So this fall, I am taking some time to think over my past experiences to see what went well, what didn’t, and how can I improve. This means tackling those fears of not being good enough and instead owning my successes and growing from my failures.
Photo: Abby Cooper
Christine Feleki lives in Squamish, BC. She is a splitboard guide in the winter and a hiking guide in the summer, leading guests safely and confidently into the mountains. Christine will be taking her final splitboard guide exam with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides this winter.